(Re)producing the selva: parallel world-making through settler colonial territoriality and decolonization

Authors: Elizabeth Shoffner*, University of Washington
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America
Keywords: Settler colonialism, environmental management, conservation, decolonization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Misiones, Argentina, conserving the remaining selva paranaense, or Atlantic Forest, has become a political and economic priority, as the government seeks to market the biodiversity of the sub-tropical forest as a unique feature of the province. Obscured by this recent celebration of the selva are the mechanisms by which its (re)production as an object of conservation rearticulates settler colonial territoriality as environmental management, extending—rather than eliminating—the processes which circumscribe indigenous Mbya Guarani territorial practices. Drawing on seventeen months of ethnographic research, interviews, and content analysis, I examine a case study of 4000 hectares within the Yabotí Biosphere Reserve, purchased by an international conservation NGO and largely titled to three Mbya Guarani communities. The exercise of neoliberal conservation as an avenue to achieving Indigenous territorial rights is unique and unprecedented in Argentina, yet in being rendered legible as both Mbya territory and selva, this site is translated vis-à-vis dominant legal and scientific regimes of property and environmental management, as well as non-indigenous conservation imaginaries. In analyzing these frameworks, I trace the making of conservation property, conservation subjectivities, and (settler) state borders. I demonstrate how they operate to exert territorial control over titled Indigenous land, and within Mbya territory more broadly, while requiring performances of Indigenous authenticity in accessing rights-based land claims. At the same time, the persistent exercise of Mbya socionatural world-making continues to exceed and resist these ontologically reductive practices of (re)producing the selva.

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